Introduction

The degradation of Earth’s natural environment and its ecological imbalance are increasing, and calls by academia, practitioners, the policy sphere, and social movements to transform business-as-usual have intensified (Martin et al., 2021; Whiteman et al., 2013). The traditional linear economy model involves a “take-make-sell-use-waste” mentality that has severely aggravated the state of the natural environment since its inception during the Industrial Revolution (Murray et al., 2017; Stahel, 2019). Harmonising nature and human activity requires sustainable production and consumption systems that value resources as finite goods (Gupta et al., 2019; Sauvé et al., 2016). As a regenerative system, the circular economy (CE) provides a comprehensive approach to value creation within the planetary boundaries—the safe, quantifiable operating space for human activity on Earth (Rockström et al., 2009; Suárez-Eiroa et al., 2019)—by respecting the natural regeneration rate of resources (Desing et al., 2020; Gladwin et al., 1995; Pearce & Turner, 1990).

CE aims at maximising the value and utility of resources along their life cycle through a collaborative approach (Andersen, 2007; Geissdoerfer et al., 2017; Korhonen, Honkasalo, et al., 2018). Stakeholder networks operating in a CE (hereafter, “circular stakeholder networks”) provide insight into the collaborative action required for “greening” our mostly linear economy systems (e.g., Gupta et al., 2019; Manninen et al., 2018). We define stakeholder networks as sets of interdependent actors with multiple relationships aimed at stakeholder value creation associated with a decentralised, network-focused form of shared stakeholder governance (Bridoux & Stoelhorst, 2022; Roloff, 2008; Schneider & Sachs, 2017). Stakeholder value is the perceived utility of the value created by different stakeholder groups of an organisation or network, which can be economic, social, or in some cases, environmental (Garriga, 2014; Harrison & Wicks, 2013).

In relation to CE, stakeholder value creation requires heterogeneous stakeholders to be organised within networks with a high degree of interconnection and interaction, as compared to linear supply chains that lead from the supplier to the buyer (Bocken & Antikainen, 2019; Brown & Bajada, 2018; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). These networks allow their members to narrow, slow, and close resource and energy loops through sustainable business practices (Geissdoerfer et al., 2018; van Keulen & Kirchherr, 2021). For instance, Holcim, a leading global building material and construction aggregate company that is committed to CE, aims to increase its sustainability efforts through open innovation and “the collaboration of a network of actors, outside any single organisation” (Holcim, n.d.).

Implementing CE requires a comprehensive understanding of stakeholder engagement in circular stakeholder networks. Several scholars identify stakeholder engagement-related mechanisms as a necessary condition for CE (e.g., Bocken & Antikainen, 2019; Geissdoerfer et al., 2017; Mishra et al., 2019). Moggi and Dameri (2021) highlight that stakeholder engagement influences the direction, effectiveness, and impact of CE. Brown and Bajada (2018) propose that engagement between stakeholders increases resource circularity within stakeholder networks in CE, resulting in enhanced sustainable value creation. However, little of the literature in management research has addressed stakeholder engagement in CE systematically (Merli et al., 2018). Our research provides knowledge about this construct, which deserves greater scholarly attention.

This chapter systematically analyses how the stakeholder engagement construct is addressed in management research on CE. The stakeholder engagement literature (e.g., Freeman et al., 2017; Greenwood, 2007; Kujala & Sachs, 2019) discusses mechanisms in stakeholder interactions that are relevant to sustainability contexts (e.g., Gonzalez-Porras et al., 2021; Sulkowski et al., 2018; Tapaninaho & Kujala, 2019). Beyond these contexts, stakeholder engagement is a rapidly evolving and dispersed field of academic interest (Freeman et al., 2017; Kujala et al., 2022).

In our review of top-tier management journal articles on CE, we apply Kujala and colleagues’ (2022) analytical lens to stakeholder engagement, which is grounded in stakeholder theory. The latter argue that stakeholder engagement is best understood through aims, activities, and impacts associated with stakeholder interactions that embody moral, strategic, or pragmatic components (Kujala et al., 2022). This lens allows us to systematically address stakeholder engagement’s complex and interconnected facets in relation to CE. Our analysis takes the form of a systematic literature review (Aguinis et al., 2018; Snyder, 2019) and qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2000; Schreier, 2014).

Our chapter contributes in five ways to management research on CE, stakeholder theory, and the CE field. First, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first systematic literature review to clarify the stakeholder engagement construct in CE. Second, we apply a comprehensive perspective to stakeholder interactions in CE that accounts for the complex interrelations in stakeholder networks beyond identifying the stakeholders who are involved. Third, in our analysis, we apply stakeholder theory in a corporate environmental sustainability context and hence follow scholars’ call to research environmental sustainability issues in stakeholder engagement (Hörisch et al., 2020; Schaltegger et al., 2019). Fourth, we provide CE managers with an overview of stakeholder engagement to assist them in implementing CE in a coordinated way that drives synergies among stakeholders by following a stakeholder network logic. Finally, we indicate four avenues for future stakeholder engagement research in CE.

In the following section of the chapter, we introduce a stakeholder engagement perspective on CE and explain the analytical lens applied in this research. Subsequently, we outline the method underlying the research, before presenting the findings of the systematic literature review. We then discuss the results, their theoretical and managerial implications, and future research avenues before concluding the chapter.

A Stakeholder Engagement Perspective on CE

CE has gained momentum as an independent field of research (Merli et al., 2018; Sauvé et al., 2016). It has been thoroughly discussed from an engineering and natural science perspective with few (but increasing) links to the management literature, with the latter predominantly focusing on business model solutions (Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Korhonen, Nuur, et al., 2018). Management scholars call for embracing a managerial approach and a comprehensive stakeholder perspective to advance CE research (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017; Merli et al., 2018).

We follow this call and apply stakeholder theory—specifically, a stakeholder engagement perspective—to study CE (Freeman et al., 2010, 2017; Kujala et al., 2022). We understand stakeholder engagement as the activities (and related aims and impacts) that firms implement to engage stakeholders in jointly addressing challenging issues and creating value (Greenwood, 2007; Kujala et al., 2022). We define effective stakeholder engagement in CE as salient and dynamic forms of stakeholder network interactions that result in sustainable stakeholder value creation.

The literature has discussed stakeholder engagement in the context of corporate sustainability. For instance, Gonzalez-Porras and colleagues (2021) highlight the collective agency and capabilities that result from stakeholders’ collaborative relationships and interactions that bridge the gap between individual stakeholders to enhance sustainable production and consumption. Sulkowski and colleagues (2018) describe how the “shaking [of] stakeholders” by the focal firm—i.e., proactively interacting and initiating cooperation with stakeholder(s) (networks)—can foster corporate activity that has positive social and environmental impacts. Tapaninaho and Kujala (2019) identify an economic- and multiple-value (i.e., environmental, social, and/or economic value) perspective of stakeholder value creation in sustainability contexts that can have a focal firm or stakeholder orientation. This literature illustrates the relevance of understanding stakeholder interactions in corporate sustainability contexts such as CE.

Top-tier management literature on CE primarily discusses stakeholder engagement implicitly (e.g., Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Some CE research establishes links to stakeholder theory without explicitly addressing the stakeholder engagement construct. For instance, Govindan and Hasanagic (2018) apply a multi-perspective stakeholder framework grounded in stakeholder theory. They argue that governmental actors have the most significant positive impact concerning drivers, barriers, and practices related to CE implementation from a supply chain perspective (Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018). Gupta and colleagues (2019) follow a theoretically grounded stakeholder perspective and propose that sufficient consideration of CE stakeholders’ interests and capabilities, through the facilitation of big data analytics, can help achieve shared sustainability goals through collaborative and coordinated association among all stakeholders. Chiappetta Jabbour et al.’s (2020) research draws on stakeholder theory and illustrates that stakeholders, and most significant shareholders, influence CE barriers and drivers (e.g., change consumer behaviour) in the context of institutional voids. Based on these initial insights, scholars call for more comprehensive research on stakeholder engagement in CE (Ciliberto et al., 2021; Frishammar & Parida, 2019).

Kujala and colleagues (2022) apply a comprehensive stakeholder engagement lens that is structured around the contents of stakeholder engagement (i.e., aims, activities, and impacts) and its underlying components. The moral component of stakeholder engagement highlights stakeholder interactions associated with good intentions and/or reciprocal and voluntary relationships (Kujala et al., 2022). This underlies a multiple-value perspective that acknowledges “broader value creation purposes”, including the environmental and social responsibilities of businesses in addition to economic value creation (Kujala et al., 2022; Tapaninaho & Kujala, 2019, p. 22). The strategic component of stakeholder engagement emphasises “instrumental [stakeholder] engagement and reciprocal economic advantages” (Kujala et al., 2022, p. 20). The strategic view of value creation, by focusing on economic value and business success, is firm-centric, whereas sustainability issues are treated subordinately (Kujala et al., 2022; Tapaninaho & Kujala, 2019). Finally, the pragmatic component of stakeholder engagement combines moral and strategic views of value creation. It relates to improving stakeholders’ situations through practical solutions and joint value creation by considering wider stakeholder interests embedded in a specific context (Kujala et al., 2022). We apply this stakeholder engagement lens to identify stakeholder engagement patterns in CE.

Method

We conducted a systematic literature review in line with established procedures in business journals (Aguinis et al., 2018; Snyder, 2019). The method allowed us to systematically identify, synthesise, critically appraise, and categorise research findings from management literature on CE (Snyder, 2019). This literature stream has been fragmented yet has proliferated, characterised by the evolving nature of the CE concept (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017; Ghisellini et al., 2016). Thus, applying the systematic literature review method helped clarify how the stakeholder engagement construct is addressed in management research on CE.

Article Selection Procedure

Our research followed Aguinis and colleagues’ (2018) recommended systematic article selection procedure (see Fig. 3.1). The principal goal in selecting the articles for our literature review was to systematically identify how management literature on CE addresses the stakeholder engagement construct. Therefore, we applied the Boolean search term “circular economy AND stakeholder”. The search term “stakeholder” ensured the inclusion of stakeholder engagement-related terms in the sample (e.g., stakeholder management/integration/inclusion/participation/collaboration). We ran a full-text literature search in two major research databases: EBSCO Host and Web of Science. For this search, we defined a 15.5-year period, from 2006 to June 2021. This decision was based on the fact that CE in the management literature gained traction as a consolidated academic field in 2006, as illustrated in extensive literature reviews (Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Merli et al., 2018). Since then, the CE literature has grown, especially after Andersen’s (2007) article provided one of the first scientific definitions of CE from an environmental economics and sustainability perspective (Ciliberto et al., 2021).

Fig. 3.1
A flow diagram presents the process initiated with goal identification followed by search terms, search criteria, duplication removal, search term frequency check for inclusion and exclusion criteria, and ends with an in-depth check.

Article selection procedure

In addition, we limited the article search to 3-to-4*-rated journals from four selected fields of research in the CABS Academic Journal Guide List 2018—the valid edition at the time of searching. This ensured academic rigour and the adequate scope of the sample. First, we included the field of research “General Management, Ethics, Gender and Social Responsibility”. The stakeholder engagement construct has been substantially developed in the literature on corporate social responsibility (CSR) (e.g., Sachs & Maurer, 2009; Strand & Freeman, 2015). Moreover, organisations frequently participate in circular activities as part of their strategic CSR (e.g., Del Baldo & D’Anghela, 2020; Esken et al., 2018). Second, we included the field “Regional Studies, Planning, and Environment” due to the interplay between business and the natural environment found with CE. Third, our search included journals from the field of “Strategy”, as stakeholder engagement literature is frequently based on strategy research (e.g., Harrison et al., 2010; Sachs & Rühli, 2011). Furthermore, CE research on strategic management has been increasing, emphasising business model innovation (e.g., Bocken & Antikainen, 2019; Geissdoerfer et al., 2018). Fourth, we included the topical field “Operations and Technology” as the CE management literature frequently addresses supply chain management that involves various stakeholder engagement practices (e.g., Geissdoerfer et al., 2018; Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018).

This first search yielded a preliminary sample of 89 journal articles—excluding 27 duplicates in the two databases—which we screened using the search terms. We excluded 59 articles that mentioned the search terms less than three times throughout the entire article and did not mention them in the theory and/or contribution section. In addition, we included four articles that mentioned “stakeholder” less than three times but at least once and included terms interchangeable with stakeholder three or more times. Thus, we ensured that the selected articles thoroughly discussed the topic under analysis. Next, the first author screened the preliminary sample of 30 articles in depth (i.e., by reading the articles in full) to identify substantial links to stakeholder engagement in CE. Substantial links were identified when articles addressed the CE construct beyond the terminology (e.g., analysed/addressed specific CE contexts, practices, or processes) and specifically addressed stakeholder interactions (e.g., stakeholder engagement aims, activities, and/or impacts). We excluded 12 articles that did not establish these essential links. Our final sample consisted of 18 English-language, top-tier, peer-reviewed management journal articles on CE (see “*” in the list of references).

Data Analysis Procedure

The data analysis procedure consisted of four steps (see Fig. 3.2), following the logic of qualitative content analysis (Mayring, 2000; Schreier, 2014). First, one author coded for the descriptive codes: article type, empirical type, year of publication, journal, industry focus, and CE phenomenon. Second, we derived and agreed on nine deductive codes associated with the stakeholder engagement lens (Kujala et al., 2022) described before, allowing for systematic analysis and extracting essential information from the sample. The deductive codes included: moral/pragmatic/strategic stakeholder engagement aims, moral/pragmatic/strategic stakeholder engagement activities, and moral/pragmatic/strategic stakeholder engagement impacts. Third, the first author systematically coded the final sample following the open coding methodology by complementing the deductive codes of the stakeholder engagement lens with inductive, specific sub-codes associated with the CE context (Gioia et al., 2012; Mayring, 2000). To ensure the reliability and interpretive validity of the data, the two authors continuously validated the codebook and coded data together during the coding process. Finally, the first author categorised the data, subject to continuous validation of this process by the second author, to ensure interrater reliability with regard to the interpretation of results.

Fig. 3.2
A process flow presents the steps that start with descriptive sample analysis, thematic sample analysis, categorization based on content analysis, and end with the final interpretation of the results.

Data analysis procedure

Findings

We present our findings here regarding the descriptives and include a section on stakeholder engagement patterns in CE.

Descriptives

Table 3.1 illustrates the descriptive codes we applied in our sample. The sample primarily consists of qualitative, especially case-study research, and hints at a lack of top-tier theoretical articles on stakeholder engagement in management research on CE. The articles derived from our search criteria were published from 2016 to 2021, indicating the increase in attention being paid to the topic of the intersection of CE with stakeholder engagement. We expect further scholarly interest in the management literature on CE in the coming years, given the theoretical and practical relevance of this intersection.

Table 3.1 Descriptive sample analysis

More than half of the analysed articles were published in the journal Business Strategy and the Environment. No publications exist in journals that deal with the field of business and society (e.g., Business & Society, or Journal of Business Ethics). The intersection has so far been researched predominantly in the environmental management literature.

The focal areas of the industries covered in the sample are diverse and address, in most instances, food and agriculture, textiles and fashion, or three or more industries at a time. The diversity of industries covered by the sample points to the potential for stakeholder engagement research in CE that can cross-validate findings from different contexts and explore new CE-industry contexts to complement and refine more generalisable findings.

The CE phenomena most prominently studied in the sample are supply chain management and circular business model (transformation). However, a comprehensive stakeholder engagement perspective that addresses the dynamics and interconnectedness of stakeholder interactions in CE is lacking.

Stakeholder Engagement Patterns in CE

From our sample we coded 122 stakeholder engagement activities and, where available, the related stakeholder engagement aims and impacts. Our analysis illustrates that stakeholder engagement patterns can be identified across the industries or CE phenomena addressed by stakeholder networks.

Most of the articles in the sample implicitly address stakeholder engagement; they deal with stakeholder interaction yet neither define this nor the stakeholder engagement construct. By applying a rigorous coding process we identified 24 categories of stakeholder engagement contents in relation to CE. Table 3.2 illustrates the categorisation that resulted from our literature review, as discussed in the following sections.

Table 3.2 Stakeholder engagement contents and components associated with CE

Moral Stakeholder Engagement

Aims. The moral aims of stakeholder engagement can include legitimate, trustful, fair, responsible, respectful, or sustainability-oriented stakeholder interaction; i.e., stakeholder engagement that aims at fostering morally desirable outcomes through a focus on stakeholder relationships (Kujala et al., 2022). Our analysis identified that moral stakeholder engagement aims in CE emphasise legitimising CE through active stakeholder involvement and creating the desired attitudes based on moral claims.

Stakeholder engagement that aims at legitimising CE refers to encouraging stakeholders to adopt common sustainability norms and behaviours that drive CE (e.g., recycling, or compensating negative externalities) (Brown & Bajada, 2018). Stakeholder interactions that actively involve incorporating stakeholders’ needs and interests into CE activities can be aimed at increasing the legitimacy of CE (Massaro et al., 2021).

In addition, stakeholder engagement in CE aims at creating CE-positive mindsets and behaviour. Changing mindsets regarding the value of waste and effective responses to environmental challenges is a morally desirable goal of stakeholder interactions in CE (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). These interactions further aim at triggering stakeholders’ motivation to engage in CE for moral purposes, thus going beyond appeals to economic interests (Ki et al., 2021). Stakeholder interactions aimed at moving beyond a linear economic system can be a starting point for inducing CE-positive behavioural change through stakeholder engagement activities (Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018).

Activities. Moral stakeholder engagement activities are inclusive and focus on creating societally beneficial long-term partnerships (Kujala et al., 2022). Moral activities include considering stakeholders’ interests, needs, and capabilities, empowering stakeholders, or taking into account silent and non-visible stakeholders (Kujala et al., 2022). Our analysis illustrates that moral stakeholder engagement activities in CE embrace creating shared values and CE-positive attitudes, emphasising the need for aligned stakeholder network values such as trust in addressing environmental challenges.

Creating shared social and environmental values among circular stakeholder networks is deemed a necessary collective activity for strengthening stakeholder collaboration. The risk of opportunistic stakeholder behaviour, which is high in CE due to the usually large number of heterogeneous stakeholders that are involved, can be reduced by the existence of shared values within circular stakeholder networks (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Fostering positive individual and organisational attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability practices (e.g., recycling, repairing, or sharing products) can improve stakeholder collaboration in CE (Brown & Bajada, 2018; Ki et al., 2021). Essential characteristics of sustainable CE include trust, which stakeholders optimally create through consensus on what a CE network constitutes (Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Rajala et al., 2018).

Values and attitudes in circular stakeholder networks need to be aligned among stakeholders. This alignment implies a change in organisational culture (e.g., self-identity, operational logic) and the collaborative creation of a shared vision (Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Saha et al., 2021). For instance, the transformational leadership of circular stakeholder network orchestrators can disrupt long-held beliefs and mental schemes about the linear economy that contradict CE principles (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). In addition, stakeholders who are willing to join a CE network are optimally motivated to show commitment and align with the network’s values based on moral grounds (Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Consequently, beliefs about moral responsibility may lead stakeholders to rethink their value propositions and strategic goals, contributing to more effective CE (Ki et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021).

Impacts. Moral stakeholder engagement impacts are related to strengthened stakeholder relationships and include enhanced shared responsibility, goodwill, trust, or fairness (Kujala et al., 2022). Moral impacts can consist of increased stakeholder value, social and environmental well-being, and giving voice to stakeholders (Kujala et al., 2022). We identified that moral stakeholder engagement impacts in CE emphasise enhanced stakeholder value creation through shared values and strengthened bonds between stakeholders which safeguard circular stakeholder networks’ morally grounded interest in addressing environmental and societal challenges.

A common value approach that is implemented across circular stakeholder networks, or a shared value-based vision, enhances stakeholder value creation (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). For instance, sourcing and building new partnerships based on social and environmental values can replace a linear customer-value-creation approach based on “best cost sourcing and pricing” and result in sustainable stakeholder value creation (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021, p. 3304). Such a value-based approach can increase stakeholders’ environmental consciousness (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019).

Enhanced trust and sense of belonging within circular stakeholder networks due to moral stakeholder engagement can strengthen the bonds between stakeholders and reinforce the network’s boundaries (Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). For instance, Moggi and Dameri (2021) illustrate how a “shell-like” defence composed of inherent network interests pursued by all, including new members, strengthens stakeholders’ sense of belonging to a CE network.

Strategic Stakeholder Engagement

Aims. Strategic stakeholder engagement aims relate to corporate performance-enhancing goals such as improving firm reputation and value creation, or safeguarding an organisation’s economic survival (Kujala et al., 2022). Based on our findings, CE-related strategic stakeholder engagement aims emphasise improving environmental and economic performance through joint CE implementation based on coordinated and aligned stakeholder interests.

Enhancing corporate performance in CE includes the goal of jointly creating more effective production processes through strengthening professionalism and coordination across the circular stakeholder network (Batista et al., 2019). Stakeholder interactions that aim at accessing critical tangible and intangible resources as well as enhancing material resource and recycling value through circular innovation adoption can contribute to improved corporate environmental and economic performance (Batista et al., 2019; Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Saha et al., 2021).

The strategic aim of implementing CE through stakeholder engagement encompasses the joint implementation of the CE principles (i.e., narrowing, slowing, and closing the loop) and ensuring an effective transition to CE through coordinating stakeholder value-creation processes (Aslam et al., 2020; Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Kazancoglu et al., 2021). The goal of promoting the growth of circular stakeholder networks goes hand in hand with that of increasing strategic advantages through joint CE implementation (Awan et al., 2021; Batista et al., 2019; Moggi & Dameri, 2021).

The aim of aligning and supporting stakeholders to implement CE through stakeholder engagement involves facilitating and developing collaboration between, and supporting, key stakeholders within and beyond industrial boundaries (Batista et al., 2019; Kazancoglu et al., 2021). The alignment of stakeholders through managing complementarities between CE network members allows for effective CE implementation (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). A functional CE can be achieved through stakeholder engagement that is designed to reduce the likelihood of opportunistic stakeholder behaviour through aligned incentives across the circular stakeholder network (Frishammar & Parida, 2019).

Activities. Strategic stakeholder engagement activities focus on enhancing firm-centric outcomes. Such activities can include building top management’s commitment to stakeholder engagement or informing stakeholders based on a firm-centric view (Kujala et al., 2022). Our analysis shows that strategic stakeholder engagement activities in CE embrace interactions associated with sharing stakeholder networks and optimising CE outcomes through network orchestration and joint innovation processes.

Accessing the resources required for a functioning CE is essential in circular stakeholder networks. In CE, stakeholders share and pool (in-)tangible resources and human capital within the CE network, such as infrastructure, technology, staff, data, or knowledge (Batista et al., 2019; Brown & Bajada, 2018; Massaro et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Rajala et al., 2018; Saha et al., 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). For instance, stakeholders acquire and share their expertise about circular value-creation processes and environmental sustainability management through CE-based skill training, mutual learning, and information-exchange events within coordinated stakeholder networks (Aslam et al., 2020; Farooque et al., 2019; Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Saha et al., 2021).

Stakeholders taking the role of orchestrators of circular stakeholder networks (orchestrating key stakeholder interactions) is defined as a relevant strategic activity. Orchestrators who balance individual stakeholders’ needs with those of the entire stakeholder network can increase engagement and joint decision-making among network members (Batista et al., 2019; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). Balancing stakeholder needs requires identifying, examining, and actively considering stakeholders’ needs and roles in value-creation processes (Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Kortmann & Piller, 2016). Network orchestrators can actively bring stakeholders together and facilitate durable collaboration by sharing a vision across the CE network or acting as innovation champions (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019).

Innovating value-creation processes in CE as a form of joint stakeholder activity optimises stakeholder interactions and outcomes across the stakeholder network (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Rajala et al., 2018). Stakeholder interactions can enhance a circular stakeholder network’s value-creation, -delivery, and -capture processes through jointly innovated circular business models (Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Kazancoglu et al., 2021). For instance, integrating Industry 4.0 mechanisms such as the Internet of Things (IoT) into value-creation processes enables the creation of hyperconnected stakeholder networks that contain real-time information about value creation, delivery, and capture (Awan et al., 2021).

Impacts. The impacts of strategic stakeholder engagement focus on firm performance and include enhanced (eco-)efficiency, competitive advantage, innovation outcomes, reputation, and corporate autonomy (Kujala et al., 2022). In circular stakeholder networks, we identify that strategic stakeholder engagement impacts embrace greater efficiency and an increase in the effectiveness of value-creation processes, both economic and environmental, and better environmental performance through eco-innovation.

Enhanced economic corporate performance results from strengthened stakeholder engagement in circular stakeholder networks. This stakeholder engagement can result in more efficient and effective circular stakeholder network processes (e.g., increased innovation outputs) and hence increase competitive advantage (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Awan et al., 2021; Kortmann & Piller, 2016; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). For instance, continuous information exchange about production processes can improve stakeholders’ understanding of how to optimise circular resource flows (Awan et al., 2021; Farooque et al., 2019; Massaro et al., 2021).

Furthermore, enhanced stakeholder engagement can lead to strengthened sustainability performance within circular stakeholder networks. Durable stakeholder interactions increase flows of recovered resources in value-creation processes, hence reduce waste and contribute to resource value maximisation (Awan et al., 2021; Batista et al., 2019; Brown & Bajada, 2018; Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Saha et al., 2021). Additionally, joint stakeholder value creation in CE can result in innovative sustainable solutions with a positive impact on the natural environment (Batista et al., 2019; Massaro et al., 2021). Finally, frequent stakeholder interactions ensure that environmental performance goals are met and optimised across the stakeholder network (Aslam et al., 2020; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Massaro et al., 2021).

Pragmatic Stakeholder Engagement

Aims. Pragmatic stakeholder engagement aims include strengthening stakeholder relationships through enhanced collaboration, dialogue, or knowledge co-creation. Further, pragmatic stakeholder engagement seeks to achieve societal change through collaborative problem-solving (Kujala et al., 2022). Our research shows that the aims of pragmatic stakeholder engagement in CE highlight that sustainability concerns are best addressed collaboratively based on the motivation of capturing the synergies inherent in stakeholder networks.

The aim of increasing awareness and acceptance of CE embraces raising awareness of and sustaining long-term interest in CE and its principles. This ensures more proactive stakeholder behaviour regarding CE that collaboratively addresses environmental challenges (Batista et al., 2019; Farooque et al., 2019; Kazancoglu et al., 2021). Pragmatic stakeholder engagement in CE seeks to educate and actively engage stakeholders through building knowledge about CE and environmental challenges (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Batista et al., 2019; Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021). It aims at “greening” corporate behaviour by overcoming misunderstandings about CE and related activities (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Moggi & Dameri, 2021).

Moreover, pragmatic stakeholder engagement in CE aims at establishing reciprocal and durable stakeholder relationships (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Kazancoglu et al., 2021). Therefore, stakeholder interactions in CE may seek to create positive synergies between stakeholders by bringing together their effort, skills, knowledge, and expertise in stakeholder value creation (Batista et al., 2019; Kortmann & Piller, 2016; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Further, pragmatic stakeholder engagement seeks to increase alignment between differing stakeholder goals through active stakeholder involvement (incl. learning processes) in CE activities (Awan et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Rajala et al., 2018). Finally, reciprocal stakeholder relationships depend on stakeholder engagement that seeks to build trust and enhance commitment within circular stakeholder networks to increase the potential of shared benefits (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Rajala et al., 2018).

The aim of addressing sustainability concerns collaboratively entails shifting stakeholder engagement towards value co-creation activities through sometimes complex value-creation processes in CE (Awan et al., 2021). These pragmatic value co-creation activities are aimed at solving environmental, social, and economic problems through stakeholder collaboration (Brown & Bajada, 2018; Moggi & Dameri, 2021).

Activities. Pragmatic stakeholder engagement activities incorporate wider stakeholder interests by co-creating value, learning with and from stakeholders, and collaboratively tackling social and environmental challenges, among other ways (Kujala et al., 2022). Our results illustrate that pragmatic stakeholder engagement activities in CE embrace sensitising stakeholders to CE and identifying and complementing their strengths and resources in a proactive and aligned collaboration environment.

Awareness-raising and informing about CE and environmental responsibility through clear, credible, and relevant information that is accessible to all stakeholders is key to ensuring sustainable CE outcomes (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Batista et al., 2019). Openly sharing information and results within the stakeholder network and beyond can foster stakeholder engagement through increasing transparency, trust, CE-relevant knowledge, and commitment to collaboration (Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Ki et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Informing stakeholders about values linked to sustainability and respect for the natural environment allows prejudices about circular products to be countered, such as the perception of the lower quality of products made out of recycled material (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021). Public communication campaigns, CE product labels, conferences, and education programmes are channels for increasing stakeholders’ CE awareness and knowledge (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Batista et al., 2019; Farooque et al., 2019; Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Kazancoglu et al., 2021).

Examining relationships in circular stakeholder networks includes identifying, understanding, and managing stakeholders and their interests, expectations, behaviours, roles, and power across the network (Awan et al., 2021; Massaro et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Scrutiny of these dynamics allows stakeholder value-creation processes to be adopted by identifying key stakeholders and complementarities between stakeholders (Batista et al., 2019; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). For instance, understanding the role of the orchestrators of circular stakeholder networks in facilitating stakeholder interaction can enhance mutual stakeholder value creation through increasing coordination and participation within circular stakeholder networks (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019).

Activating stakeholder participation in a proactive environment of engagement and collaboration in CE enables sustainable value co-creation for the stakeholder network and its members (Chiappetta Jabbour et al., 2020; Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Massaro et al., 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). Participative governance models in stakeholder networks (e.g., democratic governance bodies, incl. local communities) facilitate stakeholder participation in CE (Massaro et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Incentivising stakeholders through “hard” aligned institutional initiatives (e.g., tax deductions or subsidies) or formal awards can ensure effective stakeholder participation too (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Batista et al., 2019; Farooque et al., 2019; Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Ensuring the balanced distribution of profits, provision of technical support (e.g., recycling infrastructure), or collaboration platforms (e.g., innovation spaces that include competitors) may further incentivise participation in circular stakeholder networks (Awan et al., 2021; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Kortmann & Piller, 2016).

Finally, strengthening and/or aligning stakeholders’ CE expertise, capabilities, and relationships ensures durable stakeholder interaction for sustainable stakeholder value creation. Implementing an open communication culture within circular stakeholder networks (e.g., transparently communicating roles and responsibilities) sustains relationships and creates trust and confidence among stakeholders through increasing transparency (Chiappetta Jabbour et al., 2020; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Rajala et al., 2018; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). Collectively creating circular solutions requires acquiring CE expertise and capabilities that can be developed or strengthened through multi-stakeholder engagement (Awan et al., 2021; Batista et al., 2019). Multi-stakeholder platforms serve as a starting point for building partnerships based on stakeholders’ strengths and knowledge and for developing new value propositions that leverage mutually shared benefits across the stakeholder network (Batista et al., 2019; Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021).

Impacts. Pragmatic stakeholder engagement impacts may involve wider social and environmental benefits, the existence of a legitimated and shared vision among stakeholders, or the organisational justification of values, norms, and objectives (Kujala et al., 2022). Based on our analysis, pragmatic stakeholder engagement impacts in CE include an increase in stakeholder sensitivity to sustainability issues and an enhanced effectiveness of stakeholder interactions in proactive engagement environments, resulting in mutually beneficial stakeholder value co-creation.

Increased CE and/or environmental awareness and attitudes can result from stakeholder interactions within circular stakeholder networks that pursue the CE principles of striving for environmentally friendly production and consumption (Farooque et al., 2019; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). For instance, stakeholder engagement in CE can positively impact sensitivity concerning CE, respect for the natural environment, broader sustainability issues (e.g., the social need for a transition to a low-carbon world), and conscious consumption (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Kazancoglu et al., 2021; Massaro et al., 2021). Consequently, stakeholders’ acceptance of and positive attitudes towards circular solutions are strengthened; thus, the transition from linear towards circular production and consumption behaviour accelerates (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Ki et al., 2021).

Moreover, improvements in the quality of stakeholder relationships result from mutually beneficial interactions within circular stakeholder networks. Stakeholder relationships in CE can lead to enhanced communication and information exchange, reduced information asymmetry, and an increase in the understanding of circular stakeholder network contexts and needs (Kortmann & Piller, 2016; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). Stakeholder network success, through the involvement of heterogeneous stakeholders (e.g., consumers) in stakeholder value-creation activities, enhances stakeholder interconnectedness and commitment, relationship-building, and stakeholder alignment within the network, and fosters the circular stakeholder network’s operational legitimacy (Frishammar & Parida, 2019; Ki et al., 2021; Massaro et al., 2021; Rajala et al., 2018; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019).

The increased involvement of circular stakeholder network members that results from stakeholder engagement boosts successful CE adoption due to the nature of the CE principles (e.g., recycling, sharing, remanufacturing) (Chiappetta Jabbour et al., 2020; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). Producing and consuming within the planetary boundaries by implementing CE requires a critical mass of participating stakeholders (Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). For instance, CE works effectively if consumers support it as “working consumers” who actively contribute to stakeholder value co-creation (Alonso-Almeida et al., 2020; Kortmann & Piller, 2016; Massaro et al., 2021).

Co-created shared stakeholder value in CE can result from complex, intertwined stakeholder relationships that pursue a mutual value-creation approach (Awan et al., 2021; Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Such stakeholder relationships take advantage of complementary activities within the circular stakeholder network to maximise co-created stakeholder value (Brown & Bajada, 2018; Kazancoglu et al., 2021). This mutually beneficial stakeholder value can result in long-term collaboration, safeguarding access to resources, circular business legitimacy, and hence sustainable and resilient business activity (Moggi & Dameri, 2021).

Discussion

Our findings emphasise the complexity and diversity of stakeholder interactions in CE. They reveal CE to be a dynamic and collaborative business environment (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). The nature of this environment illustrates that societal grand challenges, such as the degradation of the natural environment, cannot be addressed in isolation and without coordination (George et al., 2016) but instead require heterogeneous stakeholders organised in networks. Sustainability transitions in the context of CE require stakeholders’ shared responsibility and commitment to stakeholder engagement for stakeholder value co-creation (Govindan & Hasanagic, 2018; Gupta et al., 2019).

Our research shows that the stakeholder engagement lens (Kujala et al., 2022), which focuses on the components and contents of stakeholder engagement, is useful for analysing stakeholder interactions in CE. This analytical lens enabled us to derive the specificities of moral, pragmatic, and strategic stakeholder engagement in CE by classifying its aims, activities, and impacts. The emphasis on the latter is balanced in relation to the respective stakeholder engagement components. This may result from our focus on first identifying stakeholder engagement activities before analysing the related aims and impacts. Overall, our findings illustrate that management research on CE emphasises pragmatic and, to a lesser degree, strategic and moral stakeholder engagement. We interpret this finding as a consequence of the predominantly practitioner-led CE concept that has entered the management discipline (e.g., Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2013; Stahel, 2019).

Based on our analysis, moral stakeholder engagement in CE is driven by aligned stakeholder network values and CE-positive attitudes. These values and attitudes are characterised by stakeholder interactions that decrease opportunistic behaviour and pursue shared sustainability norms based on moral claims. These interactions correspond with a moral stakeholder culture that involves treating all affected stakeholders with an attitude of “genuine ‘care’” (Jones et al., 2007, p. 149). Shared sustainability norms, including the CE principles of narrowing, slowing, and closing resource and energy loops, legitimate interactions aimed at co-creating stakeholder value in CE and can result in the strengthening of bonds between stakeholders. The stakeholder literature claims that communal sharing among stakeholders results in a close relationship capability (Jones et al., 2018).

Strategic stakeholder engagement in CE emphasises the innovative character of circular stakeholder networks (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017) and how stakeholders benefit from it. This kind of stakeholder engagement involves improvements in economic and environmental corporate performance as an outcome of a sustainable CE that fosters environmentally friendly and efficient production and consumption. Maximising resource value and producing innovative sustainable solutions, such as eco-innovation, depend on sharing and pooling resources within orchestrated circular stakeholder networks. These insights resonate with the sustainable business model literature that investigates which types of business models contribute to sustainable value creation, and how new partners in business networks are engaged (Ciulli & Kolk, 2019).

Pragmatic stakeholder engagement in CE activates inclusive stakeholder participation and emphasises the need to coordinate synergies in stakeholder networks, pointing to the relevance of leadership in addressing sustainability concerns. To address environmental challenges, stakeholder participation is activated through awareness-raising and promoting acceptance of CE, thus fostering environmental responsibility in human activity. Proactive and aligned collaboration environments ensure the effectiveness of stakeholder interactions organised in networks. The inclusiveness of various stakeholder interests around socioeconomic issues is known to foster collaborative and effective solutions (Jolibert & Wesselink, 2012; Kujala et al., 2022).

Theoretical Implications

The CE concept lacks a theoretical underpinning that explains stakeholder network interactions. Hence, our analysis, which applies stakeholder theory to assess stakeholder engagement in CE, contributes to scholars’ efforts to ground the CE concept theoretically (Corvellec et al., 2022; Korhonen, Nuur et al., 2018). Theoretically underpinning CE with one of the most well-established theories in management research, applied to the study of how stakeholders can collaboratively address sustainability challenges (Post et al., 2002; Schaltegger et al., 2019), also has implications for stakeholder theory itself.

Stakeholder theory has predominantly been based on a linear economy logic (e.g., Bundy et al., 2013; Jones et al., 2018) and has been criticised by numerous scholars for its environmental limitations (e.g., Clifton & Amran, 2011; Driscoll & Starik, 2004; Haigh & Griffiths, 2009). Applying stakeholder theory in the context of CE provides insights into stakeholder interactions for sustainable value creation, especially from a corporate environmental sustainability perspective, following the call of scholars to embrace environmental issues in stakeholder engagement (Hörisch et al., 2020; Schaltegger et al., 2019). This application may create the basis for a stakeholder theory that embraces the concept of the planetary boundaries by considering the values and needs of the natural environment and its constituents to collaboratively tackle environmental challenges.

In addition, our findings enhance the stakeholder network logic entailed in CE. This logic embraces stakeholder relationships as facilitating collaborative stakeholder value creation, including innovative solutions, around specific issues (Freeman et al., 2010, 2017; Post et al., 2002; Schneider & Sachs, 2017). For instance, shared norms, values, and aims increase relational trust and enhance internal network legitimacy, facilitating the sharing of resources and capabilities among stakeholders (Jones et al., 2018; Rühli et al., 2017). Our analysis illustrates the relevance of differentiating stakeholder engagement aims, activities, and impacts in stakeholder networks to account for the complexity of stakeholder engagement understood as a means of sustainable stakeholder value creation. Further, making sense of the stakeholder network logic in CE helps with moving beyond a linear economy approach (e.g., Priem et al., 2013; Schneider & Sachs, 2017) towards circular economy thinking.

Managerial Implications

Two managerial implications result from our research on stakeholder engagement in CE. First, we provide an overview for CE managers on stakeholder engagement that helps address the activities that contribute to sustainable CE and the related aims and impacts in a coordinated way. Coordinated stakeholder engagement in participative circular stakeholder networks avoids impairing CE system efficiency due to weak links among stakeholders in the resource loops (Gupta et al., 2019; Moggi & Dameri, 2021; Sauvé et al., 2016). Consequently, value is created for the network as a whole, including its stakeholders (Freudenreich et al., 2020; Moggi & Dameri, 2021). Depending on the situation and configuration of a CE business and its stakeholder network, managers can rely on one or a combination of the three stakeholder engagement components presented in our overview. The components can further help managers identify stakeholders’ overall orientation towards stakeholder engagement in CE to balance synergies (Tantalo & Priem, 2016).

Second, by applying the underlying stakeholder network logic of our findings, managers can identify the often complex interrelations of stakeholder relationships in CE (Gupta et al., 2019; Manninen et al., 2018; Zucchella & Previtali, 2019). To leverage stakeholder engagement’s effectiveness, managers and stakeholders need to consider the CE business as a stakeholder network. Diffusing the stakeholder network logic among stakeholders may increase their awareness of the shared benefits of coordination, network synergies, and durable stakeholder relationships based on trust, shared values, and reciprocity (Tapaninaho & Kujala, 2019).

Research Agenda

The stakeholder engagement construct in CE creates ample ground for future research. First, our results illustrate the positive connotations of addressing stakeholder engagement in CE in management research, as shown by the CE-related stakeholder engagement impacts, as discussed above. In contrast, knowledge of how stakeholder interactions may be misused in (disguised) opportunistic behaviour is equally relevant for ensuring sustainable CE by preventing stakeholder value from being reduced. Analysing the “dark side” of stakeholder engagement in CE would help overcome the lack of research on managing conflicting stakeholder relationships within CE (Gandolfo & Lupi, 2021).

Second, the analysis of the identified stakeholder engagement patterns’ underlying value perspectives, ranging from single-value perspectives (e.g., the ecocentric or economic perspective) to a multiple-value perspective that embraces environmental, social, and economic value (Tapaninaho & Kujala, 2019), deserves additional research. We especially encourage further research to consider ecocentric ethics to explore the underlying value perspectives of stakeholder engagement in circular stakeholder networks. The ecocentric perspective assumes that nature has intrinsic value “independent of human values and human consciousness” (Gladwin et al., 1995, p. 886). Analysis of this perspective may not only reveal to what degree CE underlies the ecocentric paradigm, as claimed by some scholars (e.g., Desing et al., 2020; Prieto-Sandoval et al., 2018), but also if and how the latter can contribute to addressing environmental challenges through circular stakeholder networks.

Third, our analysis points to the multiple-value perspective embodied in stakeholder engagement in CE, mainly illustrated by the resulting environmental and economic value. This perspective implies a broad understanding of stakeholders. It follows scholars’ calls to recognise nonhuman nature stakeholders as they can influence organisations’ actions and outcomes, just as human stakeholders can (e.g., Driscoll & Starik, 2004; Haigh & Griffiths, 2009; Kortetmäki et al., 2022; Kujala & Sachs, 2019; Waddock, 2011). However, our findings point to a lack of understanding of the role of the natural environment in stakeholder engagement in CE. We propose following Kujala and colleagues’ (2022) call to include nonhuman nature stakeholders in stakeholder engagement in future research. CE is a relevant context for studying these stakeholders as circular stakeholder networks aim at sustaining the natural environment (i.e., minimising primary resource use, restoring the natural environment, or regenerating natural resources) and meeting related needs (i.e., sustaining human activity within the planetary boundaries) (Desing et al., 2020; Sauvé et al., 2016; Suárez-Eiroa et al., 2019). Hence, explorative research may provide insight into how circular stakeholder networks (can) include nature as (a) nonhuman stakeholder when addressing environmental challenges.

Ultimately, we draw our insights from a small sample of top-tier journal articles at the intersection of stakeholder engagement and management research in CE. Later research may refine and validate our categorisation of stakeholder engagement in CE by systematically analysing practice-oriented CE literature (e.g., Lacy et al., 2020; Stahel, 2019) that implicitly or explicitly addresses stakeholder engagement. In addition, our chapter provides a starting point for case-study analyses of specific CE phenomena that involve studying stakeholder relationships in circular stakeholder networks comprehensively. Such research may apply a processual perspective to refine our stakeholder engagement categorisation.

Conclusion

Understanding stakeholder interactions within circular stakeholder networks is essential for creating sustainable production and consumption systems that help counter the degradation of the natural environment. Our literature review contributes to untangling the complexity of these interactions by categorising 24 contents of stakeholder engagement in CE according to their underlying components. Although pragmatic stakeholder engagement dominates our sample, researchers and managers should also assess circular stakeholder networks’ moral and strategic stakeholder engagement to leverage stakeholder relationship synergies. The identified stakeholder engagement patterns emphasise the underlying stakeholder network logic and facilitate the identification of complex stakeholder interrelations in CE. Based on our findings, we call for explorative research that further clarifies the stakeholder engagement construct in CE and helps develop stakeholder theory that embraces the planetary boundaries. Further expanding the knowledge of stakeholder engagement in CE will support the process of shaping and optimising the aims, interactions, and outcomes of circular stakeholder networks: namely, collaboratively addressing societal grand challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.